February 9th, 2012 Comments Off on The Killing of the Lamb
The Killing of the Lamb
A STORY BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS
by Ernesto R. Rodriguez
Penny M. Adrian, my Children, The El-Masri family, Ted Vogel, Doctor Andrea Green and family who trusted me and supported my efforts to become a good citizen. It was this kindness and respectfulness that “unhitched the team” of my criminal past. And to my Mother, Jesusa Mesa Rodriguez, who never said an unkind word to me.
This short novel is based on true stories and events of murder and rapes inside the Nebraska State Penitentiary at Lincoln where I, the author, served a three year sentence from 1952 until 1955. The names, characters events and places are all real.
There seems to be three journeys we are gifted with: To be born; to travel through a life time and the adventure in eternity. Perhaps the most interesting is how we live our lives and how we handle the consequences of our actions. Is this Fate? Are we really destined to a predetermined point in life?
If this is the case, then I must not have been gifted with the foresight or intelligence to ward off the evils that overpowered my entire life. Thus, I can’t help wondering how many of us have the same “Fate” in store for us.
The revolution of technology seems to be running parallel to the evolution of the human race. Taboos, laws, rules and regulation are born like children–ten to every second. One minute we are shitting in the woods and two minutes later we are shitting in outer space.
In spite of all the gifts given to us by whatever created us, we are still wiggling in muddy waters like lowlife tadpoles. Our sex lives are equated to those of the bed bug. Our religions are no more than a hypocritical fart on a windy day. Our modern political stance is a worldwide joke. Man’s inhumanity to man is growing like maggots on a carcass. Our prisons are bulging at the seams due to the inability of the human race to bring itself to an act of conscience. If our leaders can’t solve our problems, then why pay them or re-elect them? Or why not change the system under which they work?
This whole affair of man’s inhumanity to man will be our downfall. It is only a matter of time before our boiling pot flows over like a nuclear meltdown. And those of us who are looking to the universe as an escape route must remember that we have scared off the UFOs that tried to communicate with us–there is no place for us in the heavens.
My true story may be short, ugly to read, and you may be ready to set a match to it because the truth is hard to handle. But, my dear friend and reader, if you would only spend a few minutes in a cesspool—an American prison—infested with roaches and rats, you would forever hate your fellow man and you would learn to respect the rats and roaches which will never harm you.
Prisons and prison guards have one aim–to break the spirit of any human child that is unfortunate enough to fall in the hands of “The Department of Corrections” and this is done often because of an illness referred to as “sadomasochism.” If the Department of Corrections were to correct criminals’ behavior through education, gainful employment skills, and fair treatment, there would be no recidivism. But as we all know, every business needs more and more clients to survive, so, today we have millions of folks incarcerated and the majority of them are people of color. Modern day slavery–the selling and buying of human souls.
These true stories are designed to educate the readers that the prison abuses mentioned here are the causes of more crime, more attacks on prison guards, and more policemen getting killed in the line of duty. Millions of us, “Ex-Cons” who have been tortured in the American cesspools would rather kill and be killed instead of being returned to our prisons and the torture that awaits us. Evil begets evil and it’s in the air you breathe. The prison explosion is imminent. In this sense, prisons as they presently operate, are detrimental to society as a whole. It is time that we re-think the present brutal system of corrections.
Ernesto R. Rodriguez
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
John Clausen, a prison guard, at the Nebraska State Penitentiary at Lincoln, was unaware of the inmate who was sneaking up behind him with a home made prison shank. The big inmate quickly subdued him and began cutting off Clausen’s head. The killer worked as quickly as he could, but could not cut the head off completely because he heard someone coming.
He left as quickly as he had come. He disposed of the bloody coveralls he wore over his prison clothing, gloves and shoes and joined the other inmates moving about the prison yard. He was sure no one saw him cutting on Clausen or disposing of his clothes.
Clausen was a good man who was kind to the inmates who worked in the prison’s print shop, which he supervised. He was well liked by most inmates who worked with him or knew him. He was murdered because he was always alone in an isolated spot at noon time where he ate his lunch. He was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb that was sure to launch an investigation into the many abuses inflicted upon the inmates of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, by prison guards and privileged inmates.
Mamoo was an abusive inmate, a snitch or rat who was protected by the prison guards. He was a big, mean, and insane black man serving a life sentence for killing his wife. He had not been satisfied with stabbing her to death with a butcher knife: he cut off her head and took it to a bar, had and drink and then went down the street to dump her head into a manhole. In prison, his only ambition was to butt-fuck every young boy that entered the Nebraska State Penitentiary, and I learned he had chosen me to become one of his ambitions. Thanks to Clausen’s death, an investigation we all wanted was launched. I had not been in the penitentiary a month before I got the word that Mamoo had told several inmates that he wanted to punk me. Perhaps one could say that this was my “welcome to the big house”.
I had no choice but to arm myself with the help of several Mexicans, dangerous inmates whom I had befriended. At yard times, I leaned against the cyclone fence that surrounded the baseball diamond. My small group of Mexican inmates gathered around me for support. They had furnished me with a good shank and were ready to participate in the stabbing we anticipated–we all knew the insane Mamoo would come sooner or later. All we could do was wait for him to make his move.
He came as we knew he would, and when he was close enough to me, he pressed his face to mine, and growled, “I want some of your ass, boy…”
Before he could finish his sentence, I plunged the eight-inch steel blade into his heart. He jumped and backpedaled away with a look, of both, surprise and fear, in his eyes. He glared at me and at the other six Chicanos who were now standing by with shanks in hand – ready to help me end his life. Mamoo moved quickly and disappeared into the crowd of prisoners. But I knew this would not be the end of this encounter.
We learned later that Mamoo was wearing a shield made of prison magazines, under his prison jacket and was not injured in any way.
“You should have went for the throat, Esse, or for the brain!” Camacho, a short Mexican inmate from San Antonio, Texas, advised me.
“Later batos, we will kill the puto!” said Jimmy Sanchez.
I was seventeen years old. I had a fresh three-year sentence for knifing a man who had hit my mother in the small town of Bayard, Nebraska where my whole family worked as migrants. My Mother who had accompanied my father to a local bar was hit on the face with a pool ball while trying to break up a fight between my father and a Mexican migrant worker (Nicho) from Texas. And I took after him because the police would not arrest him that night–they wanted to wait until the following day due to a snow storm we were having. The Judge in Bridgeport, Nebraska sentenced me to the Boys’ Reformatory in Kearney, when he assumed I had violated my Texas parole from the Gatesville state reformatory.
But while I was there, I beat up a bully prisoner as my first offense and also tried to escape. The reformatory officials decided I was a reprobate and a good candidate for the Big House.
My first day in the Big House was truly frightening even though I was no stranger to jails or violence–in fact, I had already been in several jails and pulled two terms in the Texas Reformatory at Gatesville for attempted murder of a twenty-three year old man who thought I was an easy target to beat on. If I had been alone in a room I would have cried like a baby, but I had to put on my false fearless mask if I wanted to survive this madness. I had to stick my chest out and be the toughie fool.
Once my paper work was processed I was stripped and made to take a shower. After the shower I was sprayed with bug spray and thrown some ill-fitting prison clothing. I was marched, along with several other inmates, to the West cell block where I was assigned to a four men cell which had lower and upper bunks. I was the youngest prisoner in the Penitentiary and, perhaps, one of the most dangerous.
I was not dangerous by nature. Fear made me deliver the first blow–fear of coming out on the ass-end of a life threatening struggle. As a kid living in the city of Galveston, Texas, a totally corrupted city in the early forties, “The Playground of the South,” controlled by the Mob, I had seen too many good men knifed and shot for being too slow in defending themselves. It was this fear that made me “dangerous.”
Before long I fell into the routine of prison life. I was assigned to the kitchen where my job was to steam-clean all the stainless steel food trays, cups and spoons three time daily, after each meal. The basement where we worked had a foul garbage odor, and the working inmates smelled like plucked chickens. Once our job was completed we were allowed to walk back to our cell blocks. Our pay was four cents a day, but in those day, cigarettes were only nineteen cents a pack. At times the civilian boss would allow us to take a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread to our cells.
After the breakfast meals, most inmates were herded off to their assignments–to the cannery, the print shop, the plumbing shop, the laundry, the electrical shop, yard crew, the farm, the chapel, the wood shop, the hospital, kitchen, school, butcher shop, cell block mop crews and so on. Once work was completed after the noon meal we were allowed two hours on the prison yard where inmates would sit along the prison wall, played their guitars, played chess or checkers, lifted weights, played horseshoes, ran or walked for exercise, played baseball, boxed, or just sat doing nothing but looking for a way to escape with our backs to the high prison to avoid an inmate attack from the rear.
One of the first things I had to do was fight, due to a promise I had made to inmate King, a young man from Colorado, that I would whip his ass once we got out of the Reformatory’s Solitary confinement. He had taken it upon himself to call me racial names, “Hot Tamale” and “Fucking Spick” along with several other racial remarks for his personal pleasure and entertainment. I made him a promise that if he would put the gloves on with me, I would shake his hand after the match and he could be my friend. He agreed.
He was no match for me. The boxing match was pitiful! He took a few swings, missed and found himself on his ass and bleeding from the nose. At first I was pleased and the feeling of revenge against this racist made my heart dance with joy, but as the fight continued and King, who had allowed his tongue to overload his ass, was bleeding from his ears, nose and mouth, it began to make me feel ashamed of myself. At last I hugged him, told him I was sorry, dusted him off, and walked away pulling the gloves off. To this day, I truly regret this particular event in my life. Whoever taught this child to be a racist, should have taught him how to defend himself.
One day after work in the kitchen, I made my way back to the cell block with a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. I made myself a sandwich and sat there quietly eating away when my cellmate, Mr. Gallegos grunted and gave me a murderous look.
I offered him a sandwich and he refused it. I then asked what was wrong, and had I done something to upset him. He said, in Spanish, that he did not like me and said that he thought he might make cracklings out of me some day.
I had been told that Gallegos was doing a life sentence for killing his wife. It seems he cut her into many small pieces and buried her on the farm, in Nebraska, where he was working as a migrant. After leaving the farm and while he was picking cotton in Texas beside his brother, an immigration officer approached his brother to ask if they had working permits. Mr. Gallegos ran up to the officer yelling that his brother had nothing to do with the murder of his wife. After a full confession he was extradited to Nebraska.
Some times I think real seriously that if it were not for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. How in the world could I end up in a cell with a psychopathic killer who would want to make cracklings out of me? I sure as hell beat the odds on this one!
I always felt the need for a weapon. No matter where I was placed in a jail or prison, I went looking for anything I could use as a weapon. We use to say, “It is better to get caught with one than without one.”
I asked to be moved to another cell, but the prison guards only laughed. When asked why I wanted to move, I didn’t feel like ratting on Gallegos, so I asked no more. I did the next best thing. I went weapon hunting.
The prison administration issued a small brick soap to the inmates to scrub the toilets. The small bricks were hard as cement. I immediately ordered the cell-house runner to bring me four bars. He understood that I would not be scrubbing my toilet that often, thus he asked no questions. I placed the four bricks inside two socks, tied a knot in the middle, and made myself a wonderful blackjack. I placed the weapon under my pillow and slept like a baby.
The following day, after work, I returned to my cell, opened the jar of peanut butter and commenced making myself a sandwich. The next thing I remembered was seeing my slice of bread with peanut butter falling from the cell’s ceiling and feeling a terrible pain on my left temple. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that I had been hit. I immediately dove for my blackjack, and not a second too soon.
Gallegos had palmed an ashtray made from a piece of wooden two-by-fours, slapped the holy hell out of me and sent my sandwich flying to the cell’s ceiling. He growled like a bear and started making his way towards me. He had to work his way around a small wooden and metal table that was located in the center of the cell.
I stood up and swung the weapon as hard as I could. The first blow landed above his left eye. Blood flew everywhere, but the blow seemed to just anger him that much more. He shook his head and growled again but he was unable to move for a moment. I hit him again between the eyes and drew more blood the blows did not stop him.
He made his way around the table and locked me in his arms with a bear hug. He threw me to the floor and sat on top of me, I worked my right arm loose and hit him several times on the back of his head with the blackjack. He took the blows and showed no signs of weakening.
I freaked out when he reached for a single-edge razor blade which was on top of the table. He managed to put the blade to my face. I frantically hit him again and again until he passed out, dropped the blade and fell to the floor in front of the toilet. I was so afraid I continued to beat him over the face with the blackjack until the cell-house runner, who was now standing in front of my cell, yelled at me to hand him my weapon because the guards were coming.
I tossed him the weapon but straddled Gallegos and continued beating him with my fists until the guards pulled me away and dragged me to solitary confinement where I was placed on bread and water for ten days.
Gallegos was in a coma for almost a week. I was told that if he died, I would be charged with murder. The tough old bastard made it back to life and was placed in a single bunk cell.
About ten days after I was released from solitary, Gallegos was released from the hospital. Before long I learned he had gotten a knife and was trying to sneak up on me. I walked toward him and he ran away never to bother me again. Shortly afterwards he was transferred to a mental institution.
As for Big Mamoo, he stayed his distance and said nothing, but I was concerned that he made a threat and might someday act on it. I knew he was insane, and it had come down to me having to kill him. I had no intentions of living with his threat. I had a good knife and it was only a matter of getting close enough to him to do the job. It would not be easy, but I had to do it.
On two different occasions, I thought I had my chance to stick him but he sensed it coming and got away. Now more than ever I had to watch my back. It was coming down to who would get who first, and that was scary.
Cigarettes were as good as gold in prison. They can get a good hustler cash, dope, food or any other favor one can think of. I had no money coming in except from my prison job which was four cents a day and nothing to brag about. I tried selling peanut butter but business was not good. So I made the mistake of wanting to be a loan shark. I learned that prison loan sharks were loaning out two packs for three packs back in one week. Being young and foolish, I thought I would try my hand at it. I told a couple cons I had a few packs I could loan out if anyone was interested–“two for three in one week.” I said, to make sure they understood what they had to pay back.
As soon as the word was out, I was approached by a young man not too much older than me. This kid was a real smoker and his teeth told the story–they were black as tar and he had no intentions of brushing them. I loaned him two packs.
The first week went by and the schmuck comes in empty-handed. He gives me a story that his money came in the mail but was not posted. He begs me out of two more packs with a promise of paying me back a total of eight pack as soon as he can get to the prison store. I went for the hocus-pocus!
Once I realized he was not going to pay me, I tried putting pressure on him. That didn’t work, so I did what I had to do, I got a five gallon bucket of hot water and threw it on the kid with a promise to kick his ass the next time his cell door was opened.
Ten minutes later the goon squad came to my cell and dragged me off to solitary. When I ask why, they told me that the kid had asked for a transfer to an outside camp program. He told the warden I had pressured him for oral sex and when he refused, he said I threaten to kill him. The warden, old Hann, believed him, shipped him out and locked me up for another ten days on bread and water. They didn’t want to hear my story, true or false, they just didn’t care.
The boy was smart. He got what he wanted. I learned a lesson too: most inmates will do or say anything to get themselves out of prison.
When I was serving my ten days on bread and water, a prisoner was badly beaten by several guards and by the warden, Hann. I could not believe my ears. The inmate refused to be “branded.” He refused to allow the prison guards and the warden to shave his head bald. Inmates were “branded” if they received ten days or more in solitary. The branding made it easier for the guards to identify “the trouble makers.” and those who refused to be branded where beaten and then branded. Warden Herbert H. Hann would always put on a black pair of leather gloves before beating on an inmate, or so the stories went.
Several weeks passed without any real incidents in my prison routine. I decided I would learn to play the guitar. I watched other inmates making music and it seemed to be so much fun. My problem was that I didn’t have much of an education. I had gotten kicked out of grade school when I was twelve years old. I could hardly read anything, and my English was terrible. I had no idea what little words like “shy” meant. I spoke mostly Spanish. I couldn’t spell worth a damn, so how was I going to learn to play a guitar. I could see the guitar players looking at music books and that scared me.
Before long I was in trouble again. I had made a friend of one of the prison guards who worked in the kitchen basement where I worked and from time to time we cursed each other out.
I got a notice to appear before the disciplinary committee. It gave me no clue as to what the charges were, just that I had to appear.
Solitary confinement for ten days on bread and water was no joke. The cells were never cleaned, except that once a month they were sprayed down with a water hose There was no bedding of any kind, just a concrete bunk. We were given a pair of coveralls but no towels, no soap, no drinking cups. We had to drink water from a faucet, which was used to flush the toilet, and was directly above the toilet, which was infested with large cockroaches. When the guards fed us our bread, they tossed two old hard heels through the bars and on to the floor of the cell. I truly was not savoring another trip to the cockroach-infested solitary.
There were three men on the disciplinary committee, the “Green Hornet”,(our Deputy Warden Greenholtz), the Warden, and a guard with a sap in his hand. They explained that I had cursed out a prison guard. I tried to explain that it had been done in a friendly way, but the warden would not listen to reason. I was again sentenced to ten days in Solitary.
“I said I was only joking with the guard like he jokes with me.” I yelled. “Now let me tell you this, I will go to solitary this time, but the next time I am accused of bull shit like this, I am not going to the hole without a fight!” I said.
I don’t know why my parents never taught me to keep my mouth shut in situations like this. And it’s something schools don’t teach little boys and girls.
“Give this man another ten days!“ Hann said to the Green Hornet.
“Ten days for what?” I yelled. “For what!”
“For talking too much,” Warden Hann shot back. “Now get out of here before I give you the max.”
“What’s the max ?” I asked.
“Sixty days on bread and water,” Hann said.
“I’ll take the max,” I yelled out and hit the warden on the mouth with a straight right punch that sent him flying backwards out of his chair and on to the floor. I then kicked the guard who was standing behind me, in the nuts, and he ran out of the office.
The Green Hornet was opening the desk drawers searching for a blackjack or a sap. I decided to cause some damage to the glass counters outside the office where crafts were up for sale. I ran out of the office and into the arms of another guard, by the name of Graham.
He threw his arms around my waist and tried to throw me to the floor, but couldn’t. I choked him and hit him several times until the warden, the deputy warden, and three other guards came to his rescue.
I was pulled over the top of a large table where the guards hit me with saps and blackjacks. I kicked the warden in the face and saw blood fly. Then the table gave out from under us and we all went to the floor.
The guards pinned my hands and legs to the floor. Hann straddled me and began beating my face with his sap. After hitting me six or seven times, an old guard grabbed him and pulled him off of me, “Stop God damn you–stop–that’s enough!” , the old guard yelled.
I was handcuffed and taken to solitary where my clothes were cut off and I was tossed into the cell naked and without medical attention. My nose were broken and I had lumps as big as eggs all over the top of my head. That is what saps do. They don’t break the skin but it swells to the size of an egg.
What did I prove? Nothing except that I was good at getting my ass whipped and tossed into solitary. This was big time. Hitting the warden is the biggest sin one can commit in any prison.
I was a bloody mess. Gobs of blood were coming out of my nose. The lumps on my heard were many, painful and seemed to be growing in size. my front teeth felt as if they had been split in two pieces. My arms and legs were hurting from being twisted and jerked out of place. I was completely naked except for a pair of silver handcuffs. The filthy cell was empty except for dirt, stale body odors, and roaches. I was very tired and didn’t care if I lived or died. At last the evening darkness took me off into a very deep sleep.
It wasn’t until ten days later that the prison guards came to solitary and removed the handcuffs. They tossed me a pair of Coveralls, two dried out bread heels, and four squares of toilet paper on the cell floor.
“Why you giving him so much toilet paper? He won’t get enough food to work up a good turd,” said Dakota, a prison guard.
Captain Wright, a small, old man, mean, and thin guard decided to have some fun at my expense: “Now, if you decide you need more paper, this is how we do it around here. You use one square and tear a hole in the center, you see, like this.” he gave me a demonstration and proceeded. “Then you wipe your ass with your finger and then you clean your finger with the paper, you see?” he asked.
A few minutes later Warden Hann appeared in front of my cell and asked, “How’s your nose?”
I replied, “How’s your eye, motherfucker?” knowing that the cut had taken many stitches to close. He said nothing else and moved on to visit the other inmates in solitary.
With a pair of coveralls, two heels of bread, and four little squares of toilet paper I settled in to do my sixty days on bread and water.
I felt totally isolated from the whole world. I had no way of requesting medical care, no way to voice a complaint, no way to reach a court or an attorney. No one knew where I was or how I was being treated, or whether I was alive or dead. I was not allowed to send or receive any kind of mail. I guess there are some things worse than being up shit creek without a paddle. I felt like some one had dug a hole in the earth, put me in it, covered it and sat a guard in a chair on top of me. I guess this is why inmates refer to solitary confinement as the “Hole.”
The “Segregation Building, was a square box-like building containing eight cells in the basement, eight more cells on the first floor and six more cells on second floor. The third floor had two larger cells for death row inmates. All the other cells were single-man cells, except in times of riots, when the cells would be packed with as many as twenty inmates per cell.
Inmates in the basement cells were given two meals every third day. They were served in old and pitted aluminum bread pans. The food was simply slopped together, bread and dessert on top of mash potatoes and gravy. Nothing to drink except water from the faucet above the toilet.
Inmates were only allowed to bathe once a week for no more than two to three minutes. Needless to say that solitary reeked of body odors twenty four hours a day.
There was only one privilege allowed in solitary: You could talk your head off–nothing else. Nothing–nothing else! Unless you consider entertaining cockroaches, and inspecting prison guards as a privilege.
Inmates came and went. Some inmates were sentenced to three days, some to six, others to ten and more, up to 60 days.
One day I smelled cigarette smoke. I could not believe it. I got my nerve up to ask who had “smokes” and how about “sharing” one with me.
A voice from an inmate two cells away shot back, “Don’t talk too loud. Keep your voice down.” He whispered. Then he tossed a string in front of my cell and told me to pull it in. He had attached a home made cigarette, Bugler, and a half of a paper match along with a small piece of striker.
I later learned that the inmate was an old hand at doing time in the hole. When he got his notice to appear before the disciplinary committee he rolled up some Bugler tobacco, rolling papers, paper matches and strikers inside a rubber surgical glove, lubricated it and pushed it up his anus.
The string, he told me was made from his coveralls. He said he would tear the pants’ leg and pull out the thin treads and braid them together like a pigtail until he had a thin string twelve to fifteen feet long. A small wadded piece of toilet paper or a piece of clothes could act as a weight to throw the string two or three cells away. The strings, I learned had to be made strong enough to pull a bread pan of food from one cell to another to help feed inmates being starved by the guards.
Guards checking the inmates in solitary were often abusive. Guards didn’t take kindly to inmates sleeping when they made their rounds. They would rake their keys across the bars, shine their flashlights in the inmates’ face, or yelled to them to wake up. Some inmates responded by spitting on the guards and cursing at them. When this happened, guards refused to feed the inmates for the remainder of their sentences.
I heard the rattling of the keys and voices. The guards were bringing in another inmate. Solitary was full, so, the guards put the new inmate in a cell with another prisoner The guards made their rounds after locking in the new inmate and left the building, slamming the entrance gate loudly, metal against metal, and locked the gate.
“Well, well, what do you know guys!” yelled the inmate who was in the cell with the new inmate.
“Pussy!” yelled another inmate, “They just brought you some pussy, you lucky bastard!”
The new inmate was a young Indian boy who was known as one of Big Mamoo’s punks, and who would run to his master at the snap of his fingers. It was said that Mamoo and another inmate by the name of Red Carter, beat and raped Little Beaver when he first entered the prison.
Little Beaver had a three day sentence in solitary. After he left, the other inmate told the story about how he raped him. “I hit on him for some pussy, you know, and this punk took a punch at me. I hit him several times in the face and he fell on his back on the cement bunk. I unbuttoned his fucking coveralls–pulled them off. I pulled his ass up to me–pushed his legs back to his face and shoved it all in–inch by inch. I fucked that punk three times a days every day until he left.” he bragged.
Little Beaver warned his attacker that he would tell Big Mamoo, his jocker, what he had done. “He will get you, you just wait and see–he’ll get you.”
After this story, I got to thinking what would happen if the guards would bring Mamoo and put him in my cell or any cell with another inmate. Mamoo was not only mean, he was insane. Mamoo was also a penitentiary rat who told the guards whatever they wanted to know about other inmates. In return, the prison guards turned their heads when he attacked a young boy. Red Carter, a friend of Mamoo, was also a prison rat who enjoyed the same privileges as Mamoo and was always ready to assist with the dirty work.
Solitary and the lack of good nutritional food was knocking the pounds off my body. I had weighed one hundred and fifty pounds when I entered the prison. I had no scale, but I guessed I had lost some thirty pounds.
As a migrant, I worked hard, pitching hay and peas with a pitchfork onto wagons with horses. I bucked potatoes from sunrise to sundown, and then emptied the potato sacks in the underground silos. I looked like the Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David.
The more I thought about Mamoo, the prison rapes, the show of favoritism by the prison guards, the insane inmates, about the guards beating inmates, the more I realized I had to start working out and getting my body in good shape. I knew it would only be a matter of time and I would need to rely on my strength to pull me through all the prison insanity. I hit the dirty floor, roaches scattered, and I began doing pushups until I could do one hundred and fifty at one time. I would do three sets in the morning, three at noon, and three before dark. I did the same with situps except that I would do three hundred situps at one time. Although I could only take four to five steps from the back of my cell to the front bars, I walked until I was completely exhausted to get my legs in shape.
The only way we could tell what time it was, was when the guards came to solitary to pass out food. Otherwise it was hard to tell if it was a.m. or p.m. At one point I was awakened by two inmates playing chess. “Knight takes bishop,” and “Queen takes knight and check,” and so on. I was amazed and asked them how they could do that. It seems they used the toilet paper to form squares on the cement bunk, spit was used in place of glue, and chess pieces were made from toilet paper or wet bread. Other inmates loved playing the “Twenty Question Game,” where we had to guess what an inmate was thinking within twenty questions. And of course we never lacked for escape artists. There were always a few of us who wanted revenge for our maltreatment. With us it was about destroying prison property and breaking the prison rules to do what we had to do, like getting smokes, extra food to help others, or flooding our cells by plugging up the sewers with bed sheets, pillow cases. Revenge was intentional and the results were sweet even if we were caught and punished.
Being a part of a Segregated Group began to make me feel like a warrior, like someone fighting injustices I could not comprehend, but knew they existed right under my nose.
A white inmate was brought into solitary and placed in a cell with a Mexican prisoner by the name of Ortiz from Lincoln, Nebraska. After the guards left, Ortiz asked another Mexican prisoner if the inmate in his cell was a punk. The reply was that he was, “yes.” This inmate later admitted he had lied.
In a matter of minutes, Ortiz and his cellmate were fighting. Then after a while, things got quiet for a long time.
Ortiz finally spoke again in Spanish, “I hit on him, man, and this punk got to whipping my ass, and suddenly he stopped fighting, took off his pants, and sat on it. Damn, he almost kicked my ass, Esse, but he fucked me good man, like a real bitch!”
I often wondered what the guards would do if inmates complained of being raped by a cell mate. I came to the conclusion that they would just laugh it off and do nothing to separate the inmates. Inmates in solitary could holler as loud as they wanted to, no one could hear us, nor did they care. There was no way to escape being raped except to whip your attacker’s ass and make him beg for forgiveness. But you could kiss your ass good bye, if you weren’t the killer type.
The roaches came out to play at night like clock work. I would lie on my belly and watch them play with each other and run races. If you have never watched a community of circus roaches you are missing out on some real entertainment, they are almost human.
I heard the keys rattling and the big entrance gate to solitary was pushed open and five guards walked In. Each guard was armed with a baseball bat. “Your fucking time is up, bad boy. We’re moving your ass upstairs, that is, unless you want to do another sixty days. Your choice…” Captain Wright said, as he inserted the key into the lock and twisted the key to unlock my cell door.
He pulled the door open and motioned for me to come out, then he pointed, with the baseball bat, towards the entrance gate. “Get, get moving asshole, we ain’t got all day!” He said.
I was taken to the first cell on the second floor. I could see the prison yard, the baseball diamond, and the West cell house. I could see part of the prison wall and a gun tower.
The cell was small. It contained one bunk with a thin mattress, a small pillow, a pillow case, two sheets, and an army blanket. While this did not give me a great feeling of comfort, it was certainly better than a concrete bunk I had been sleeping on for the past two months.
We were not allowed any reading material except the “Holy Bible.” Nothing else. The Segregation Building, was designed to isolate not only the body but also the mind. I couldn’t help wondering how such rules were conceived. Is it possible that several great minds gathered around a long mahogany table, at the tax payers’ expense, and decided it would be a wonderful idea and rule to deny the human mind an opportunity to function and develop? Prison officials did not seem satisfied to starve the body, they had to starve the mind as well.
We were served two meals a day with milk and coffee. The meal came in the old and pitted aluminum bread pan slopped together. By the time we were given our food the two slices of bread were always soggy from food juices. Many of the inmates flushed the food down the toilet and refused to eat, until they realized they had no choice.
It was 1954, a cold January winter day. The steam radiators were banging loudly and straining to keep the segregation building warm when all hell broke loose–the inmates began yelling and banging their stainless steel cups against the bars.
“Burn! You bastard, burn! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They are rioting out there–the laundry’s burning!” an inmate yelled. We could see smoke filling the winter gray sky. Inmates were running wildly across the prison yard. The guards in the towers were firing their rifles. Windows in the segregation building were broken and the inmates yelled out to let the inmates on the yard know they supported them.
The guards began filling up the isolation cells. Inmates were packed in like sardines. The guards were armed with baseball bats and beating inmates into the isolation cells. The inmates below were yelling to us giving us information about the riot. They told us that two guards had been taken hostage and that the laundry had been set on fire.
We were told that there was no standing room in the isolation cells. Inmates had to take turns at sleeping on the floor. They were not fed for days.
The entire prison was locked down. No one was fed. Nothing moved inside the prison except the armed guards who were rounding up rebellious inmates and locking them up. Other inmates holding two guards hostage were holding out in the prison laundry and keeping the fire alive. The Lincoln Evening Journal was banging at the outside prison gate, but Hann would not comment, saying only that inmates should not get any publicity–“They will just get more rebellious…” he told them.
Some guards working in the segregation building sympathized with the inmates in isolation so we were able to send them homemade cigarettes, matches, and food. The inmates below had torn the screens off the air ventilators. The guards unlocked the plumbing area between our cells above isolation and shoved the items down to the inmates below.
After several days, the inmates released the hostages for a promise from Governor Crosby, that he would have a fair investigation and allow the inmates to discuss their grievances against the prison administration.
It was over a month before the prison got back to normal. Inmates were fed in their cells, they were allowed to shower only once a week, no recreation, and armed guards taunted the inmates. Prisoners were beaten and placed in solitary as example to other rebellious inmates. Cells were searched at all hours of the day without warning.
I could see through my window. Several guards and the warden were making their way to the Segregation Building with an inmate in handcuffs.
“I got rid of the last Warden we had, and I’ll get rid of you too, Mr. Hann. You just wait and see. I want access to law books and writing materials,” The cuffed inmate demanded.
“You got the only book you are going to get–the Bible!”, Hann responded.
“That alone will cost you your job. You don’t know who you are fucking with, but you will soon enough,” the inmate told him.
The new inmate was Harry Dunn, a jailhouse lawyer about fifty two years old. He was serving twenty-five to fifty years for armed robbery. Harry had been working in the prison laundry when the hostages were taken and when the laundry was set on fire. The warden had accused Harry of being a ring leader, and without any proof, he sentenced him to the Segregation Building to an “indefinite” term.
Harry was placed in a cell next to mine on the first floor. He demanded law books and writing materials. The guards laughed at him and gave him nothing except enough writing material for one letter. Harry addressed that letter to a federal court, and received a reply. The federal court ordered Hann to give Harry access to all the law books he wanted and all the writing materials he needed and further ordered that he be given full access to the federal courts. The Court also stated that a violation of that order would lead to contempt charges against the prison officials.
Harry got busy writing a writ to the Federal Court in Lincoln, Nebraska, and asked me if I would help him make copies of the writ, and I agreed. I could not read very well and did not understand much of what I was copying, but as an artist, I was good at copying anything I could see. I did know how to write a letter, in a limited sense, and I soon improved. Harry also helped me to understand the constitutional laws, and legal citations. He read United States Supreme court cases and opinions, and for the first time in my life I realized that I too, as a prisoner, had constitutional rights that were being violated by Warden Hann, and that my “indefinite sentence” in solitary was also illegal.
Harry also promised me that he would see to it that I be removed from the Segregation Building. I had no idea what to believe. I could not understand how Harry could have so much power, but somehow I believed him and worked hard beside him to get Warden Hann fired.
I learned that Harry had indeed gotten the previous warden fired, for having done exactly what Warden Hann was doing, and it didn’t seem that Hann had learned anything from the previous warden. Harry confided in me that indeed he had been a ring leader in the riot, but that he had covered his ass. In the confusion, Harry and other leaders agreed to make Harry look like he was rescuing one of the hostages. It was agreed for Harry to shield one of the guards from the rioting inmates and take him to an exit. Harry made sure other guards witnessed the rescue. He shielded the guard and took him outside the burning building, waved at the guards not to shoot, and told the guard to make a run for it.
The guard, to this day, swears that Harry jeopardized his life to save him and that Harry was not a leader. This, Harry knew would go badly for Warden Hann in the Federal Court.
I was quickly learning that I was young and ignorant. I really had no idea that the prison was about to explode, and that the other inmates were in total discontentment. I only knew that I was truly unhappy with my treatment and that I had developed a self-destructive attitude.
Before the uprising and the burning of the prison laundry, during the month of April, on Good Friday, a prison guard, John Clausen, was found murdered in the prison print shop. The killer had intended to cut of Clausen’s head but was interrupted. The head was still attached to neck and shoulders by a small amount of skin and muscle. The killer fled, disposed of a set of bloody coveralls, shoes and gloves, and he was never convicted or exposed for the crime.
Harry and other inmates who claimed to know the identify of the real killer, told that the killing was designed to get revenge for “sadistic acts by prison guards” and to get an investigation of the prison. The inmates’ main contentions were that they were being beaten without reason, that guards allowed certain inmates, like Big Mamoo and Red Carter, to rape other inmates, and they felt they were not being educated or taught employable skills. This caused them to become restless, afraid, bored, and angry.
Somehow the murder of John Clausen, did not get the attention it deserved from the out side world, the Govrenor and the news media. Hann managed to convince the public that it was simply a senseless murder by some evil lunatic. With the public’s sympathy on his side, it gave him, Warden Hann, more power to beat and otherwise mistreat the inmates.
A small group of inmates decided to foul up the investigation of the murder and cover up for the real killer. Edward McClelland was a habitual liar and quickly admitted to killing Clausen. Hann jumped on this like a city rat going for country cheese on a trap. After a long and expensive trial, McClelland was acquitted.
The sad part of the McClelland story is that he was serving a life sentence for a murder he could not have committed. Evidence was produced that at the time of the murder he was confessing to, he was working for a circus in another state. Yet, somehow, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in the Nebraska State Penitentiary. It was always my suspicion that Edward was a homosexual and thought he would have a better life inside then he would have had outside in the real world.
Joseph DeYonghe, another inmate, a born homosexual from the State of California, also wanted credit for Clausen’s murder. He too was tried but not convicted for the murder. But he was later committed a state mental institution.
An inmate, Harvey Durbin, a prison rat wanting to escape his sentence by pointing the finger at whom he called the real killer, was found dead in his cell. It was ruled a suicide. Needless to say, this state witness for the ensuing trial never made it. To this date, the murder case has never been completely solved.
The unrest at the prison continued. There were many attempts to escape. One inmate, Paul Case, now deceased, had himself checked into the prison hospital. Late one night, he made his way to the hospital roof which was connected to the front prison wall, dropped off into the prison’s outside parking lot and made his way to the State of Michigan were he was arrested and imprisoned for several years at the Marquette State prison. Several years later we met again, but shortly thereafter Case died of a heart attack in Milwaukee, a free man, sometime in 1984.
A 1952 prison riot in Lincoln, Nebraska, the killing of John Clausen, the burning of the prison laundry, the many escapes and attempted escapes finally took its toll on the prison administrators, the Green Hornet, Mr. Greenholtz and Warden Herbert H. Hann.
A penal committee was appointed by the former governor Robert Crosby. We began to hear rumors that a penologist by the name of Sanford Bates would be investigating all of the State prisons at the cost of five hundred dollars a day.
Prison officials did not consider the investigation seriously, and continued with the same manner of treatment, except for small changes in the segregation building—we were allowed to read magazines and novels from the prison library—nothing else changed.
The guards continued to lie, saying that their treatment was proper, humane and necessary to control the inmates. They assumed that slop, concrete beds, roaches, and mind deprivation was proper and necessary to control the inmate population. They could not understand that their abuses would have just the opposite effects.
Inmates wanted an investigation but they had very little faith in the system. The best results seem to come when inmates resort to big-time violence and millions of dollars in destruction of prison property that ends up costing correctional staff their jobs. Investigations into conditions, treatment, beatings, and prison deaths too often result in a decision of “justification.” Most investigations too often do not allow inmates’ input, and those investigating are generally biased against prisoners. In this case, the inmates at the Lincoln Penitentiary were no different.
But they were fed up and ready to strike again and again until changes were made. They were willing to sacrifice another prison sentence to vent their anger, and get results!
Inmates in the Segregation Building now comprised mostly of inmates from the prison riot, some escapees, and inmates under suspicion for the murder of John Clausen–the most dangerous inmates of the prison population. The stew in the pot was beginning to boil and the guards did not see it coming, or perhaps they simply welcomed it as part of their jobs.
The sadistic guards that inmates had been rioting and complaining about, were now pressing the inmates. Their verbal abuses got worse, they refused to give us milk at meal times, and coffee was rationed to one half cup.
The “impatient inmates” as we were referred to, rioted within the segregation building. What could burn was set on fire, the sewers were plugged up and cells flooded, inmates spit at the guards, they threw cups of urine and human excrements at them, and screamed profanities at them.
The warden sent a crews of armed guards, with gas masks and riot helmets and dressed in rain coats to the Segregation Building. The guards tear gassed the entire building! They jerked us out of our cells and hustled us off to solitary.
Once in solitary, the inmates picked the locks of two cells and got out and destroyed the heating pipes. With the pipes broken, steam filled the basement cells–we were roasting.
Not all prisoners are “dumb criminals.”, although we do have our share of dummies, just like in the free world. Among the inmates in solitary we had a few good escape artists. Ray Tapia, a young man from Denver, Colorado, was determined to escape. He and two friend picked the old master locks on two cells. They showed me how it was done, and I learned to open the locks in six seconds. The pick worked faster than a key.
They plotted to jump the two prison guards who checked the isolation building, dress in their uniforms and make a break for the wall. This idea was dropped because they had no idea if the guards were being watched by the tower guards or if they had a signal they communicated with for security reasons.
Instead they thought of using part of a broken steam pipe to bust a hole in the wall, crawl out and hit the wall. They knew where they could get their hands on an extended ladder. But none of these ideas materialized.
One morning, Shortly after breakfast, Dakota and Captain Wright brought in a young blue eyed boy, Williams, a kid from Mississippi. They were beating him and kicking him. The young boy was screaming and cursing. They tossed him into a cell and left.
Later that night, Tapia and I unlocked our cells and delivered smokes to the inmates. I stopped to talk with the newcomer, Williams, to find out why he was placed in isolation.
“You spit on the guards?” I asked
“Yes, stupid, I know…” he whispered.
He told me that he had been beaten and raped by Big Mamoo and when he reported it to the guards, they just laughed. Dakota asked him, if he liked it, and how did it feel, and the kid spit on him out of anger.
“Seems to me you wanted to come here for protection,” I said.
“I guess you can say that,” he replied. “He’s a big guy about three hundred pounds and I’m no fighter. I am afraid of him, wouldn’t you be?” he asked.
“Sure, sure, we are all afraid of him.” I tried comfort him.
“Don’t worry. I promise you that Mamoo will pay for what he has done to you. I promise you that.” I told him.
As I was talking with Williams, I heard a noise on the stairs leading to the upper floor of segregation. I looked up and saw the night guard’s face peering at me through the small window. He looked shocked. He scrambled up the stairs, no doubt, to sound the alarm.
I yelled at Tapia and we both made a dash to our cells and quickly relocked the our cell door with the old style Master locks.
Within a matter of minutes, a dozen guards unlocked and kicked in the front entrance gate. They rushed in with shot guns, baseball bats, and hammers. They ran through isolation but found no one outside the cells. They regrouped and began hammering each and every iron bar, hitting each bar twice. This hammering continued for a long time. At last they left, and went upstairs to the second floor.
The night guard who spotted us outside our cells was sat in a chair and asked to repeat his sighting, what he had seem or what he thought he had seen. After the guard repeated his story, the night Captain, Nance, accused him of hallucinating and suspended him for two weeks without pay. “Don’t come back until you start feeling better, you hear?” he asked. Nance had the guard replaced with another guard.
After several weeks, several of us were taken back upstairs to segregation, and again, I was assigned to a cell next to Harry Dunn.
Tapia and a couple of his escape artist friends were later released into the general population. But their freedom did not last long.
Shortly after their release from segregation, early one morning they armed themselves with butcher knives and hacksaw blades. They forced their way into the guards’ kitchen, tied up two guards then proceeded to cut the metal bars and tried to escape. They were not spotted by prison guards, when scaling the cyclone fence leading to the outside parking lot but were spotted by a lady visiting the prison who immediately sounded the alarm! They were quickly apprehended and returned to isolation.
The segregation building was quiet. I was daydreaming about my wife, Guadalupe Guerra Rodriguez, and my two baby girls when I heard Harry’s voice say: “Are you ready to leave segregation, Ernie?”
“Hann isn’t going to put me back in the general population,” I replied.
“I promised you I would get you out of here and the time is right. Trust me, I am going to get you out, you just wait and see.”
Harry’s petition had been accepted by a Federal Court, and he showed me a copy of a court order issued to the warden. It was an order to show cause why Harry should not be removed from segregation and restored his full privileges in the general population. Harry then explained, that I too had been in segregation illegally all along. He Then handed me a petition he had prepared in my behalf and ordered me to make two extra copies.
“We’re gonna mail these babies in and once they are accepted, you can negotiate with the warden. “If he is willing to let you out, you tell him you will drop the petition. He’ll go for it, I guarantee it. He will not want to answer to another petition.”
Thanks to Harry and another inmate by the name of Winston, who helped me learn to read and write. I had managed to read the English and Spanish Bibles from the beginning to the amen. I had improved my vocabulary by copying the petitions, and reading a magazine, The Red Book. At last I was on my way to earning myself a badly needed education.
My petition was accepted by the court, and as soon as I received the acknowledgement I asked to see the warden as Harry had instructed me. Just as Harry had promised me, the warden and I agreed to my transfer out of segregation into the punishment area in the East cell block. I guess my negotiating skills were not good enough, I was unable to win back all my general population privileges, but my new circumstances would be much better. At least I could have three meals a day, and not slopped all together, all the coffee I wanted, milk and all the fresh bread I wanted, instead of hard dried up heels.
The prison bakery made fresh bread daily. When the bread loafs was sliced, the ends of the bread, “heels” were tossed into a large aluminum pan where they hardened and drew the attention of large roaches and rats. This pan was picked up and taken to isolation and fed to the inmates.
I remember my first couple of days in the punishment area in the East Cell Block. I was assigned to a cell next to an inmate from New York State, Horox, who jogged a lot when he was free to do so. The inmates nick named him, Seabiscuit, after a famous race horse.
Seabiscuit told me that he would always be a criminal. He said that he would always be trying to outrun the law and therefore had to stay in good running shape.
“You wanna bet on the fight?” he asked.
Rocky Marciano was fighting dancing Joe Walcott. I liked Joe and knew he would win. “Sure, why not.” I told him. I remember going to the toilet to take a piss. Hundreds of inmates went into an uproar–they were screaming and yelling and making one hell of a noise! I rushed to my small set of earphones only to learn that Rocky had knocked out Old Man Walcott in the first round. I was totally disappointed.
Several days later, about midnight, I was awakened by an inmate that I had serviced time with in segregation, an inmate who knew he could trust me to keep my mouth shut.
He explained that he could unlock my cell door anytime I wanted out, for whatever reason, and showed me a home made aluminum key. I told him, no thanks, and he left to open another inmate’s cell door. I learned that these inmates were not attempting to escape, or to get to a guard, nor to kill anyone–they were visiting consenting homosexuals!
I learned that inmates would make an impression of the tumblers inside the door locks by inserting a burning toothbrush handle into the lock and twisting it. Once the impression was hard, they filed down a piece of flat metal or aluminum into a key.
The inmates studied the routine of the guards and learned how to beat the system. The guards who checked the cell doors every hour on the hour had to lift a metal lever which unlocked one of the two locks that secured the cells. The guards then checked each and every cell door by pulling it. If the door did not move this meant it was secured. If the door would fly open, there would be hell to pay! When the guard reached the end of the row of cells, and all was well, they would drop the lever in place and locked the cells.
What the guards did not know was that when they lifted the lever, the inmates would jam the door so that when the guard pulled the door it would not move. As soon as the guard pulled on the door and went to the next cell, the inmates would immediately pull the door open very quietly. They knew the guards took a one hour nap once they had made their rounds. This gave the inmates one hour to play with, do what they had to do, return to their cells and lock the doors.
The inmate in the adjoining cell, Joseph DeYonghe, was a known homosexual from California, and a boy from a wealthy family, who made no bones about what he was. All of his movements were very feminine.
DeYonghe received a visit from a fellow inmate late one night. He tried to kiss and hug the inmate who had come to see him. The jocker would have none of that and whispered to him. “Stop motherfucker and bend over, we ain’t got all night.”
I could hear DeYonghe moaning with either pain or pleasure, I couldn’t tell which it was. The inmate on the pitching end, whispered, “Shut up fool! You’re gonna get us both busted! Shut the fuck up!”
The romance went on for a couple of weeks, then as my luck would have it, several guards came to my cell, without saying a word, I was escorted back to isolation.
“What the hell are you accusing me of now?” I yelled at the guards as they were locking my cell door.
“One of our inmates came to us and told us you have a key and that you are letting yourself out at nights. Want to tell us where the key is?”
“You’re crazy man. I don’t have a key to anything!” I cried.
“Tell it to the preacher. We don’t want to hear it!” they said as they walked away.
They knew inmates were getting out of their cells. It had to have come from an inmate, but who would have told the guards? Why was I picked? Could it have been that the snitch really didn’t know who was getting in and out of their cells, and just picked me on a hunch? It was no use trying to figure out what had gotten me back in isolation. The guards were going to do whatever pleased them. I simply had no win.
In some ways I felt good. It would be good to see Harry Dunn again, my friend Tapia, and the others. The real standup guys who took no shit from no one and were willing to fight for what was right!
“I heard what happened,” Harry said. “It’s a fucking shame! But Hann will get his and it won’t be long now. That son-of-a-bitch has to go. Welcome home, Bad Boy!”
It seems that the guards nor anyone else ever called me by my real name. The guards labeled me a “Bad Boy” and the name stuck to me.
I asked Harry about his petition. He said the prison’s lawyers were arguing that he had no case, but the court was not buying it. “These things take time, but it’s in my favor so far. The guard I helped get out of the laundry, is on my side, and Hann is shitting in his pants.
You don’t know it, but you will someday understand that prison officials can’t violate the laws nor the constitutional rights of prisoners, and when they do, we can take them to court, like the criminals they are.” he explained.
The inmates, in segregation, began whispering to each other that they wanted to take over the segregation building. They wanted to overpower the guards at shower time. It was agreed that whatever happened, Harry Dunn would not be a part of it. His case was too important to involve him.
A prisoner by the name of Joe Beads, decided we needed a shank, and he knew how to get one into the segregation building. It would take him a little time to do it, but he was confident it could be done.
Joe Beads was a lifer who was once, for years, Warden Hann’s chauffer. Joe had tons of information and proof, on the warden and was ready to tell it all once they took over the building.
According to Joe, the warden and deputy warden, had a home built with prison lumber, and had the house supplied with electricity from the prison. Joe had dates, time and names of places where Hann and Greenholtz went hunting with prison rifles and ammunition. They were supplying two prostitutes with food, can goods, bread, and choice cut meats from the prison in exchange for sexual favors. Hann had pounds of choice hamburger ground for two large dogs he owned. Joe was ordered, by the warden and deputy to deliver the stolen goods. Joe knew the time and dates when they went gambling with the state’s money and much more. Joe knew that the only way to get this information out to the public was to take over the segregation building. No one would listen otherwise.
In addition to what Joe had to tell, there were the other inmates who were ready to testify to the cruelty by prison guards, the roach infested isolation building, the sloppy food, and having to live with insane inmates who did not belong in prison, the denial of a due process hearing before being sent to isolation for indefinite periods of time, the lack of medical care, physical and mental deprivations, prison rapes and much more.
Besides Harry Dunn not participating in the event of a takeover of Segregation, there was one inmate in the death cell who cried day and night. He had been found guilty of killing his wife, her lover, and his dog with a shot gun.
Inmates would yell at this poor soul, “If you hadn’t shot the dog, you dumb fuck, you wouldn’t have gotten the chair!”
My three year sentence was about to end. I too could not participate in a takeover and risk getting more time. Joe Beads and I talked about this and we agreed to keep me out of it.
Joe Beads managed somehow to convince the prison doctor Fink that he needed to be taken to the hospital. Dr. Fink was a wonderful kindhearted man who had his hands tied by the prison administration, yet he did what he could for the inmates, and had Beads taken to the prison hospital overnight for an examination.
An inmate nurse went along with Joe, got him a butter knife and a pocket knife. Joe wrapped them up with tape, lubricated the packet and put it up his anus and this is how he managed to get the knife into Segregation. Joe would later use the butter knife to saw the metal bars of his cell. Believe it or not, metal bars can be cut with a metal spoon. Simple, metal against metal. I had explained this to Joe.
The prison was under investigation, and several members of the investigating committee came through segregation and stopped in front of my cell. “The inmates here are treated well and we feed them three meals a day,” a prison guard told the committee members.
“That’s a damn lie!” I yelled out, and went on to explain that we got two meals, slopped together in a bread pan. The committee members told me they would call me out for a personal interview.
Several of us were called out and taken to the administration building where our stories were recorded. I told them all about the beatings, the branding of convicts, the roaches, the rapes in solitary without mentioning names, about our heels infested with roach poop and how guards threw our food on the floor, the cement bunks, how we were starved and deprived of reading materials. The interview lasted a good forty-five minutes. They asked many questions and took a lot of notes.
Somehow they were not impressed. It just seemed that they were not sincere in their investigation. Things were moving too slowly, and there were no immediate changes in the prison’s attitudes or policies. The same old shit continued after the committee concluded with the interviews and left the prison.
On March the fifth 1955, I was released from the Lincoln, Nebraska State Penitentiary before noon. Joe Beads had given me a pair of Black Nunn-Bush shoes he wanted me to have. Harry Dunn and other inmates promised they would get information to me through their outside contacts and relatives. I in turn promised to write them and share some free world stories with them.
Hann offered to meet me up front and shake my hand. I refused, and advised him to stay away as I would be tempted to spit on him.
I was allowed to visit each segregation cell and to say goodbye to all my friends who had shared their suffering with me. I wanted to cry but held back my tears.
I was walked across the main yard, past the baseball diamond and into the West cell Block, where I waved goodbye to other inmates who yelled out to me. I was taken to the front office and given my personal property and told I had to register for the U.S. Army, and if I didn’t, that I could be arrested.
I whispered to one of the guards, “As I go out the gate please observe the mistletoe I have pinned at the tail of my coat.”
“What did he say?” asked the other guard.
My first stop was at a local thrift shop were I picked out a tan suit, a white dress shirt, and a tie to go along with the Nunn-Bush shoes Joe had polished and given to me. My second stop was at dime store where I bought a pocket knife. My third stop was to see Doctor Fink in his private office.
“Here I am doc, just as I promised” , I greeted him.
“Here’s a blank check for you. Put in whatever amount you need to get home . But promise me you will go home and not get yourself in trouble.”
“Thanks Doc”, I said, “I have enough money to get home and I promise you I will go home and won’t get into trouble,” I promised.
My next stop was the Green Parrot Poolroom where I had been told I could find a certain abusive guard by the name of Wright. I went there and waited. I knew the exact time he would be there. I had gotten my information from another guard who was truly a good man.
I went to the toilet, and when I came out, there he was with a pool stick in his hand and his back to me. I poked him hard on the shoulder and when he turned and saw who I was, he dropped his pool stick, started shaking but didn’t say one word. I showed him the knife and then hid it behind my leg.
“You’re one sadistic bastard. You treat us inmates like we are shit. Now, say one word to me, just one word you asshole and you know what will happen.”
I waited for a response, but none came. He stood where he was just trembling. “Listen to me, and listen well,” I continued. “I am on my way home, but someday, if you continue abusing inmates, you will get another visit like this one, and you may not live through it,” I said and walked out of the pool hall.
I decided to see my ex-con friend, Harris, a barber in Lincoln who had promised me a date with a fine young lady on my first day out. So my fourth stop was to rent a room because he had promised me a date with a beautiful “high yellow” black girl, a friend of his. We met and indeed she was beautiful! But as my luck would have it, a black male, her cousin, spotted her in the bar and forced her to go home. I watched the Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano fight and left the bar.
Frustrated at my near miss, I picked up my things at the hotel and wandered through the deserted streets to the Greyhound Bus Station. I decided I would go to Michigan. It was past midnight. I bought a ticket for a bus leaving a few minutes later for Chicago, via Peoria, Illinois.
On the big silver Greyhound Bus I met a young woman returning to Peoria from a visit to her husband, who was still in Lincoln’s penitentiary. Because I had spent so much time in solitary, I didn’t know her husband, but the fact that I myself had spent time in prison gave us every excuse to get to know each other better.
To add further to my enjoyment of the long trip over the rolling prairies I spotted a beautiful Latina who was sitting in the front of the bus. She was wearing a becoming black dress adorned with lace, and soon she was exchanging glances with me–the handsome ex-con.
When the Peoria-bound wife disappeared, the French-Spanish beauty replaced her in the seat next to me. She was bound for Chicago where, after a night’s layover, she would catch an early morning bus for the ultimate destination. Her husband was of German origin, quite a bit older than she, and very tolerant of her not infrequent peccadilloes.
Between Peoria and Chicago we agreed that we would share a hotel room when we arrived in the Windy city. The next morning we would continue on our separate ways, me to Lansing, Michigan, where most of my family were, and she to wherever her older husband was stationed.
When we arrived at the bus terminal in Chicago the ravishing Latina temptress checked at the ticket counter for the departure time of her bus the next morning and, to her horror, learned that there was a bus scheduled to leave for her destination in ten minutes, a bus she felt obliged to take because, as she giggled to me, she was already two days late. The great lover in me almost cried when I saw those lindas nalgas (beautiful set of buttocks) mount the bus’ steps. “Shit,” I thought, “this just isn’t my day!” I Was batting O for 3.
I later learned from the prison grapevine that Wright went to work, requested to work in a tower, and never worked in the cell block again.
All hell broke loose on March 27, 1955, a Sunday morning just twenty two days after my release from segregation. Before I left, Joe Beads had begun cutting his cell bars with the butter knife. I and several other inmates would sing loudly to cover up the scraping of metal against metal noise Joe made while cutting the bars. After I was released, Joe continued cutting the bars.
Joe was housed in the last cell on the second floor facing the main prison yard. He managed to crawl out of his cell, and went around the other side of the cell block and hid until another inmate called Officer Miller to come up stairs. Once Miller was talking with the other inmate, Joe had him cornered in where Miller could not run past him. Miller was placed in Joe’s cell and the other inmate was released. At this time, Swanson a second guard working in the Segregation Unit was called up stairs by Miller. He too was cornered and taken hostage.
The guards were stripped of their uniforms and locked into one of the cells in just their underwear. The two inmates then proceeded to unlock all the cell doors. The telephone was disconnected and the entrance gate was barricaded from the inside.
Twelve angry inmates were now loose inside the segregation building and trashing the two floors they occupied. They destroyed everything they could, plumbing, windows, steam radiators, toilets, bedding, bunks, sinks and light fixtures. The noises they were making alerted the prison guards that something was wrong inside the segregation building. Tower guards also spotted two inmates wearing prison guard uniforms.
Deputy Warden Greenholtz along with six state troopers attempted to storm the building, but couldn’t get in because the inmates had barricaded the entrance gate from the inside.
Greenholtz sounded the alarm and called all guards to report to work and thirty-five state troopers were dispatched to the prison. State troopers and prison guards surrounded the segregation building and posted a vigil on the prison walls.
Greenholtz immediately ordered to cut off the Segregation’s heating. He attempted to cut off the water supply, but was told it would entail cutting of the water to the main cell blocks. “We will starve them out,” he allegedly told the guards and troopers.
Governor Anderson, decided to move into the prison, and take command of the situation. He made a brilliant move. He was afraid the prison guards might just do something that would get someone killed. He slept at the prison and waited for the inmates to release the hostages.
The Governor wanted to interview the prisoners but Greenholtz put the fear of God into him by telling him that the inmates might take him hostage and escape out of the prison.
The inmates made a list of demands and lowered them out the segregation window on a string. Their demands asked for: no reprisals; firing of all guards known to be sadistic; removal of insane inmates from isolation and segregation; three meals a day; a stop to prison inmate favoritism; medical care for inmates in isolation and segregation; reading material as supplied to the general population; and definite sentences for inmates sentenced to segregation. The prison had already begun constructing a fenced in area to allow the inmates in segregation one hour of exercise daily.
The Governor refused amnesty saying that he did not have that power. He could pardon the inmates after trial or sentencing for breaking the law. He promised to meet with the inmates, one by one, without prison officials being present and promised that their demands would be give a completely fair investigation and consideration. He stated, that he would not negotiate further until the two guards were released.
Governor Anderson was armed with an earlier report from a Prison Study Committee appointed by the former Governor Robert Crosby. The report included recommendations from the famous New Jersey Penologist Sanford Bates who was retained by the State Board of Controls to investigate the Penitentiary. The report was extremely critical of the prison administration. It called for hiring a penal director to oversee the state prisons, and demanded a change in the prison administration. In my opinion, this was calling for the resignation of Warden Hann. But leave it to politics to smear the truth.
The Governor changed his mind and agreed to allow one inmate at a time to come to the warden’s office unescorted for a personal interview concerning their demands. The inmates would then be allowed to return to segregation unescorted.
After four such interviews which started on Tuesday, at 11 p.m. through telephone conversations with the prisoners, the expected capitulation came.
After sixty-five hours, the inmates agreed to release the two hostages. They also requested permission to be allowed to surrender themselves unescorted across the prison yard to the administration office. This was granted, and the inmates surrendered with dignity.
The inmates were given a shower and clean clothing. They were fed, and locked up in the East cell block. A five year sentence was added to each inmates’ sentence, except for three inmates who did not participate in the take over.
There was much confusion within the prison and prison administration. No one wanted to take the blame for any bad publicity or criticism generated by the investigation and the recommendations of Penologist Sanford Bates. Taking the blame would have meant the guillotine for the guilty parties and the cutting off of heads for the Department of Corrections. It is always easier to demonize the inmates who are already locked in cages like wild animals. It has never taken much to convince an uneducated public that the inmates are the real source of the problems–a bunch of discontented criminals that can be put in their place with a good whip and the butt of shotgun. When called to arms, the community quickly volunteers to take up arms against defenseless inmates, without determining who is right or who is in the wrong. The cry goes out, “Kill the bastards!”
Although it was in print, no one seemed to have noticed it. The two guards who were taken hostage, told the Lincoln Evening Journal that they never feared any harm from the inmates; that if food had been sent to the rioting inmates that they would have given it all to the guards; and both Swanson and Miller made it clear that the demands were justifiable. Miller and Swanson, were guards in the Segregation building where they witnessed many beatings and other abuses inflicted on the inmates by their fellow prison guards, and Warden Hann.
If the general public were educated in prison matters or had any real understanding of the Criminal Justice System, they would know that inmates never profit from rioting. They only riot when they are cornered like rats and are not given any other recourse. In this case each of the inmates received an additional five years to their sentences.
The ones that did profit were the administration: overtime pay; more staff; better pay; more guns and ammunition; tighter security and a new segregation building.
What about the murder of John Clausen? Why was this matter swept under the rug? Clausen was a wonderful man who was loved by most of the inmates who knew him or worked with him. The only reason Clausen was killed–remember I was there serving time when he was killed–was that he was in a lonely spot at the right time, and he was chosen as the sacrificial lamb to get rid of Hann and his posse.
Why did Hann rush a mentally ill inmate, and a known liar to court as the killers of Clausen? I honestly believe Hann knows to this day who murdered Clausen. Could it be that the killer knew too much about Hann’s and Greenholtz’s illegal activities and they were not about to chance that their stories would come out in a courtroom?
Why was the murder never solved? I can’t help but to think that such a good man deserves something better than being swept under the rug and forgotten.
Warden Hann, who resigned as warden blamed “the public attention, a small hand full of rebellious inmates,” and “the press “ for the circumstances that brought him to his knees.
At one point, Hann was quoted as saying, “There never has been any serious tension among the majority of inmates. It is always the minority. If this minority received less attention, publicity from the outside, they would be easier to handle. The more notoriety they get the more abusive they become.”
Hann was right: If he could kill an inmate and no one knew about it, the rest of the inmates would be much easier to handle. If I thought they would kill me if I told the truth, I would keep my mouth shut tighter than Fort Knox! Had Hann been a smarter warden, he would have known that sooner or later the inmates would rebel. Hann’s ego got in the way of his ability to do his job well.
Hann also knew that sixty per cent of the inmates were functional illiterates who had no idea why they were in the penitentiary let alone understand their constitutional rights. This particular class of inmates had no idea what abuse was, they were too frightened to protest anything, bad food or ass kickings, and they had been brainwashed into believing they deserved what ever treatment they got. It was the minority who had the guts to stand up for what they believed in. The average American citizen, including criminal justice students, and some news journalists don’t understand this, so Hann played on this ignorance. The only ones Hann could not fool was Harry Dunn and the Federal Court Judges who ruled against him and forced him to release Harry Dunn from the Segregation Building.
The inmates did not win this round. Hann was given the opportunity to resign, but the inmates who were justified in rioting got five years added to their sentences. What a contradiction! The perpetrator gets away and the victims get a five year sentence.
As inmates, we know we can’t win in rioting. We know the public hates us and couldn’t care less what happens to us. So, I am only going to say this once:
This is what most inmates with guts will tell you outright: “If you put your fucking hands on me, you asshole, I’ll set your ass on fire and see to it you don’t go home to your wife and kids! I have nothing to lose, I am already in jail,” and “I live here, and you just work here!”
However true this may be, no one wins!
Hann refused to accept his role which was his downfall. Had he not stolen prison property; had he not been keeping two prostitutes and supplying them with food that was meant to be fed to the inmates; had he not beaten inmates nor allowed his guards to do the same; had he not abused the constitutional rights of inmates and state laws; had he not been lacking in hindsight perhaps he would still be warden to this day, and perhaps John Clausen would not have been murdered. The most important point Hann and The Green Hornet overlooked was the fact that two of his guards told the public that the rebellious inmates were justified in rioting.
I boarded the Greyhound bus in Lincoln Nebraska with a one-way ticket to Lansing, Michigan where my sister Carmen had purchased a big house on Walnut Street and the rest of the family members moved in to help pay the mortgage. They had prepared a bedroom for me in the rear of the house with a back entrance.
I immediately got a job as a dishwasher in a local cocktail lounge and restaurant called Archey’s. I was not only paid a weekly wage of forty-five dollars, but I could eat the best of food, and took a good mixed drink from the bar after my work was done.
I kept in touch with the “rebellious inmates” as I had promised them and they wrote me letters telling me what was going on inside the walls. Their letters had to be mailed to their relatives who would then mail them to me at my Lansing home address. These inmates had become like family to me. I truly worried about them as I did my own sisters and brothers.
I received one letter from Sanchez. The letter said that not much had changed at the Penitentiary since the segregation riot and the investigation. Just a lot of talk and little or no changes from the new administration.
The big news was about Big Mamoo: “It was late, past midnight. That is when most of the prison guards take a nap, thinking all the inmates are sound asleep. I guess someone made a key and got out of the cell on the same tier where Big Mamoo was housed.“ Sanchez wrote. “No one is talking about who did it. The rumor is that some young kid who was beaten and raped by Mamoo got him. We hear say that about one in the morning, there was a loud explosion, and Mamoo’s cell went up in flames. The entire East Cell Block was filled with black smoke.
Guards came from everywhere. Some opened the windows to clear the smoke while others rushed to the burning cell to put out the fire.
Inmates were screaming and yelling. Some of the inmates yelled at the guards to “let the motherfucker burn!” The rumor is that someone threw two gallons of gas into his cell and threw a burning book of paper matches into the gas, then the inmates ran into his cell and locked himself in.”
The story went on to say that when the fire was put out, the guards discovered that who ever did it had plugged up the cell door lock. But once the lock was cleaned out and unlocked, the guards tried to pull the smoldering corpse of Big Mamoo out of the cell by his ankles, the meat just fell off his body like a well roasted pig.
At the end of the letter Sanchez wrote that a rumor on the grapevine was saying that Red Carter was marked to be fired next.
I remember this story as if it just happened yesterday, but the truth of the matter is that I was twenty-two years old when I left the Nebraska penitentiary, and I am now seventy-six years old and happy to report that I gave up my life of crime over thirty-five years ago. I reckon I saw no future in it. but it took me a long time to “Unhitch the team…”
One thing for sure, Hann and I will never forget each other nor the reason for The Killing of John Clausen, the sacrificial Lamb.